The Tuesday before Thanksgiving was a busy time at the former St. Cyril’s convent in Binghamton’s First Ward.
“They ran out of food Monday,” said Barb Donnelly, director of outreach ministries for Showers of Hope, which provides food and clothing for those in need. For more than a year now, the ministry has been serving people from the convent off Clinton Street.
Many people had come for assistance. It appeared there would be no fresh food again to give away that day, too. It seemed that they’d only have non-perishables — until a donation arrived.
“Thank God we got the truck in. We got a delivery. So God provided,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly is director of outreach ministries for Showers of Hope, based at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Binghamton. When COVID hit, it stopped its program of showers for the homeless. Rather than serving people around the community, the trailer sits idle.
That’s not the case for Donnelly. She remembers the early days of the pandemic, when they started serving food for people when their jobs “stopped.” The once-weekly effort grew to every weekday as more in need showed up. The ministry expanded throughout the parish’s school building.
It’s been close to three years that their efforts have been re-directed to provide food and clothing. The giveaway is a joint effort of St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas Aquinas parishes. Volunteers from several other churches also assist.
On the pre-Thanksgiving Tuesday, 105 families with a total of 487 people received food.
Donnelly smiled as the day was over. She sat at a table as volunteers were cleaning up and getting ready for the next day. She said many of the clients are seniors having difficulty making ends meet.
“The 15th is the new end of the month,” Donnelly said. “On the very first, it'll be a little bit slower.”
That's because checks come in early each month and they can buy food on their own, she said. But mid-month and beyond, it’s harder with other bills, like high heating and grocery costs.
The process is simple at the convent. Each person is greeted at an open window, asked only for their name and family size. They move on to another window where they receive food.
Michele Braco volunteers as a “window manager.” She said there’s a challenge for some people she greets who live in hotels with no refrigeration.
“Most of the food we get one day, and it really needs to be used quickly,” she said. “So they come every day, and that’s because they’re using that food up that day, right away.”
Braco wears an apron with words of the Italian saint Padre Pio as she works: “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”
Many people come for the food on foot. Some from long distances without a vehicle. Donnelly spoke of a woman who’s a regular and comes all the way from a motel on the Vestal Parkway, several miles away.
“Personally, I think the spirit of God inspires everyone of us here when we see their faces,” Donnelly said. “They don't want to be here. Then when you hand them food, they just they smile.
“You can see relief in their face. It makes you feel good again."
For those in need, there’s also clothing distribution upstairs in the building. Donnelly said they are looking for donations of cold-weather items, like coats, hats and gloves.
Several donations over the last year have helped outfit the food pantry. Commercial refrigerators were donated by a church. Donnelly said a $50,000 COVID grant from the city and county paid for a walk-in freezer and shelving throughout the pantry.
Donnelly said she looks forward to continuing to serve those in need.
“God provided. Thank you God, thank you Jesus,” she said. “This is spirit driven.”
For more information
Contact St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-722-1060.
This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Binghamton churches' Showers of Hope gives away food, clothing